When we talk about the influence of feminism on women’s rights, we often enter into the conversation about the double standards women are held to by society. Whether it is in our sex lives, our work/life balance, or our looks, feminists object to any unequal application of restrictive convention on women as a matter of basic principle. And the fact that we women are often judged by our looks over our intellect is a very sore point in that exchange.
“Congressman Mike Honda is here. Where is Mike? (Applause.) He is around here somewhere. There he is. Yes, I mean, he’s not like a real tall guy, but he’s a great guy. (Laughter.)
“Second of all, you have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It’s true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years. ”
What is really wrong here is that, by chastising President Obama for remarking on Attorney General Harris’ looks (as opposed to the same about Mike Honda), we are really imposing a feministic double standard on him. President Obama makes flattering (or not so) comments about the physical appearance of accomplished and good looking people as a matter of habit. And for the most part, those accomplished folks upon whom he has heaped compliment have been men. President Obama is an equal opportunity flatterer.
Obama remarked over Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s appearance last year.
“A couple people I want to thank for their outstanding work. First of all, our Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, is in the house. (Applause.) He’s the guy in the nice-looking hat. Not only does it look good, but it protects his head, because the hair has gotten a little thin up there. (Laughter.) He is a good-looking guy.”
If President Obama’s comments on Harris’ looks crossed the line, so should comments about every other politician’s looks he has ever made. The fact that Harris is a woman should not render comments or compliments about her looks taboo. Such a rule, in itself, is a double standard. To hold President Obama to a different standard when the subject of his praise is a woman undermines the goals of equal treatment, equal rights and equal opportunity for women and men.
I compare this situation to the flawed logic of me getting offended when my male coworkers fail to censor themselves in my presence. The fact that they would curse up a storm or tell jokes in casual conversation with me shows me that they do not view me in a different light. Some people may think they should watch what they say in front of a lady. But I say, “SCREW THAT! I want to hear the joke about the polar bear walking into a bar too.”
If the President’s remarks about good looking people are evenly uttered about men as well as women, I see no reason to censor the handsome conversationalist for the sake of feministic ideals.